It was a tumultuous start to the college football season for Michigan State on Friday night, with blinding rain, fierce lightning, and a weather delay to boot, but the Spartans walked off the field victorious over Western Michigan after four hours of battle on the gridiron by a final score of 26-13.
The key to victory? It's no secret this time. All hats go off to the stellar MSU defense that scored two touchdowns and kept a wily Broncos offense at bay.
The Spartans' defense was unfazed and unintimidated by the Broncos' pass-heavily attack early on and batted down pass after pass from WMU quarterback, Tyler van Tubbergen. Michigan State linebacker Jairus Jones intercepted a pass in the first quarter and masterfully lateraled to safety Kurtis Drummond for a 22-yard touchdown to earn the first points for the Spartans, and later on the game, Marcus Rush forced a fumble allowing Shilique Calhoun to return return the ball 16 yards for a TD that led to a 26-7 lead with just 9:02 remaining.
Other highlights on defense included safety Kurtis Drummond making a leaping, one-handed interception at the 1:35 mark of the first quarter at the MSU 37. Jarius Jones wasn't done either though; he intercepted another ball on the WMU 13 yard line which led to a MSU field goal.
Michigan State's defense hadn't scored a single touchdown throughout all of 2012, and they've already got two under their belts after just one game.
And it seems like the Spartans are going to need it, because as expected, Michigan State's QB battle between No. 1 and No. 2 starters, Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook, didn't go as well as head coach Mark Dantonio would have hoped.
Maxwell started the game with a number of short completions and looked poised in the pocket, but could make any of the big plays needed to keep the Spartans' drives alive. Cook made progress with his feet, rushing for a number of much-needed yards while under the gun. In all, Maxwell was the more efficient passer, but Cook was more able on the ground and more apt to make bigger plays with his arm - albiet to mixed results.
Another item obviously playing hell with the minds of the offense was the decision by Dantonio to flip-flop Maxwell and Cook a total number of six times throughout the game. And the consistency certainly seemed to play out quite poorly with the Spartans' wide receivers core.
The same receivers from last season, including Aaron Burbridge and Keith Mumphery, dropped a number of key passes, including a three-yard TD pass from Cook to Mumphery. Burbridge, who was heralded during the preseason for his solid hands, dropped a number of passes that kept the Spartans quarterbacks shuffling to compensate.
Clearly, all was not entirely well for Michigan State on Friday night, but once again, the Spartans defense, which is ranked among the top in the nation, proved that they can be relied upon to help save a game when need be. Dantonio has his work cut out for him with this noticeably-struggling offense, but the amazing defensive squad shined when they needed to in order to make sure the Spartans walked away with a season-opener.
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.